South Florida’s first three-peat state champions — Miami Central and Miami Booker T. Washington — didn’t only spend Christmas week celebrating.
Before and after the holiday, they were each gearing up for their respective attempts at making more football history.
Both teams will be a part of the inaugural State Champions Bowl Series Saturday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton.
The event is a bowl-game type event for high school football that will put both teams against nationally ranked competition from the states of Washington and Utah on Saturday in games televised live by ESPNU.
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“It’s something really unique and if you get the chance to play it’s something worth it because it’s a bowl game atmosphere and it’s a chance for the young guys to get an opportunity to play and go into the offseason with a chance to look forward to next season,” Central coach Roland Smith said.
Booker T. Washington (14-0), ranked No. 4 by USA Today and winners of 40 consecutive games in a row, will take on USA Today No. 8 Bingham (Utah) at 8 p.m. in the finale of the one-day, three-game event.
Central (13-1), who has only lost to Booker T. in each of the past two seasons, will play Bothell, ranked No. 15 by USA Today at 4 p.m.
The first game will involve Florida Class 3A state champion Jacksonville Trinity Christian against No. 22 Eastside Catholic (Wash.) at noon.
Booker T. beat two out-of-state teams — Oscar Smith (Va.) and Tucker (Ga.) — this season, and Central beat Hoover (Ala.) and Stephenson (Ga.).
“This year it may not have worked out as a ‘national championship’ like most people hoped for, but I think this event is a start,” Booker T. coach Tim Harris Jr., said. “You see how college football has evolved with a playoff system now and it’s exciting for us to be a part of something huge that could change high school football.”
The event, organized by Paragon Marketing Group and sponsored by Burger King, was formed this past season and mirrors postseason tournaments in basketball that pit nationally ranked teams against each other.
Only Florida, Utah and Washington’s state high school athletic associations allowed their member schools to participate in the event which will have a bearing on the national high school rankings.
Most polls have Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, Allen (Texas) and Concord De La Salle (Calif.) ranked in their top five, but none of those schools’ states sanctioned their teams’ participation in this year’s event.
“You have to start somewhere and that’s what they’re doing,” Smith said. “I can see more states joining in over time. It’s going to be a big deal for the kids.”
Other state champions this season from South Florida, such as Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Plantation American Heritage and Apopka declined invitations to play in the event, citing logistical issues, such as having coaches and players involved in All-Star games over the next week.
Traditional powerhouse states, such as Texas and California finished their seasons this past week and several national All-Star games are set to be played next week.
Booker T. doesn’t have any players committed to All-Star games within a week of the bowl game, but Central has Smith and wide receiver Da’Vante Phillips committed to coach and play in the Under Armour All-America game in Tampa on Jan. 2, and defensive back Calvin Brewton set to compete in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Jan. 3 in San Antonio.
Smith was very vocal about his team’s willingness to participate in the event even before they had wrapped up their third consecutive Florida Class 6A state championship.
Smith said he and his players would head out to their destinations Sunday following Saturday’s games.
Bothell (14-0) has won six Washington state championships since 2002, and is led by senior quarterback Ross Bowers (6-3, 180), a California commit. Bowers led the Cougars to their first state title three weeks ago and will take on a Central defense that amassed 83 sacks this past season.
The Rockets faced talented quarterbacks throughout the postseason and Smith expects his team to be ready for this challenge.
Booker T.’s opponent, Bingham, is one of Utah’s most-successful programs of the past 15 seasons, reaching the state semifinals 10 times during that span and winning five state championships.
“There can never be too many games against nationally ranked teams,” Harris Jr., said. “Playing against physical teams is something we want to test our kids against.”